Entrancing Australian Sina King shares her Berlin Burlesque Festival experience…
“Berlin, Berlin!” the cab driver shouts at the tourist-filled streets as he drives me to tech rehearsal. The city is bustling and the energy is high. I’m back in the city dubbed by its former mayor “poor but sexy” and I’m super excited. It’s the third time I’m visiting Berlin, yet the first time I’m attending the festival. It was a delight to be invited to headline the event alongside Japan’s Erochica Bamboo and Germany’s Hedoluxe. I had heard about the roaring success of the first annual festival in 2013 and my expectations were high.
Walking in to rehearsal I knew my expectations were in safe hands when I saw fellow Aussie and cabaret superstar Reuben Kaye suspended from the ceiling singing and spilling expletives at the stage kitties below as they spun him around pulling on cascades of maroon chiffon trailing down to the stage. It was in fact the opening number and I snapped a photo or two with a big grin on my face.
The Berlin Burlesque Festival is divided into two nights: The Odd Night and The Even Night. As a guest I watched the The Odd Night and I had time during my delicious pre-show dinner to admire the grandiosity of the Wintergarten (age of theatre) with its glamorous memorabilia-lined walls, golden fittings and awnings, velvet furnishings, and elevated stage looking out to wide stalls and dress circle.
My very helpful taxi driver had defined the German word wintergarten (pronounced vinter-gaarten) as the glass-enclosed balcony seen hanging off many local apartment buildings as “a place to see some life and beauty when it’s too cold to go outside”. This European theatre has been true to its name over the years and the festival, although not too cold to be elsewhere, was no exception.
The Odd Night, if you were a ‘virgin burlesque-goer’, would have had you in for the shock and surprise factor of about 9/10. However, the Berlin crowd seemed to be up for anything and were a rapturous bunch.
Highlights included the wind-up doll talents of Kiki Beguin, Lipstick & Wax’s sticks through a box illusion. New Zealand’s Trixi Tassels melting her clothes off with fire. Evilyn and Juilietta as ringmaster and fetish horse staple gunning playing cards to bare buttocks. The rocking singing skills of the XO Sisters, host Ferkel Johnson’s multi-faceted striptease and his co-host Eve Champagne sculling a whole beer and flashing her bare lady parts at my guest’s direct eye-line.
The favourite for me was headliner Hedoluxe performing as male blow-up doll ‘Carlo Amore’ erotic stripping down to his birthday suit complete with a sparkling happy ending. Clever, unique, and strangely alluring.
After an internationally mixed masterclass and the opening night down, The Even Night had arrived. After flying over 30 hours, performing at the New York Burlesque Festival, two nights in Paris, and a quick bout of the so-called ‘showgirl flu’ it was time to launch my new act ‘The Sceptre Show’. Subconsciously there may be a connection to Berlin in the design of the act, as I’ve always admired the city’s radio tower, which looked to me like a grand sceptre with a disco ball atop.
As we all know, getting a spot towards the end of the show means you miss a great deal of the other acts if not all of them. By the time you get ready, perform, and pack down you’ve missed the show; on this particular night it was a real shame as the line up was fabulous. What I can report is Erochica Bamboo landed on the moon whilst a classical pianist accompanied a male opera singer in a goosebump performance that wound up with her rocking out in traditional Japanese costume to the Sex Pistols lyrics “I am an anarchist”… epic!
Secondly, Reuben Kaye the self imagined “love child of Liberace and Dracula” was an absolute rock star on and off the stage, complete with swarms of fans waiting to meet him post show including those who had travelled around Europe to see him.
Every aspect of a great show was covered by the warm and wonderful producers. Merchandising was by far the best I’ve seen and no expense was spared in the performers’ goody bags. It was a lovely thought and I now have many festival branded gifts to cherish my experience with including a gorgeous black rose makeup mirror.
I congratulate Marlene Von Steenvag and Else Edelstahl on creating a true gem in the burlesque festival scene; meticulously prepared, well cast, wildly engaging, and above all… fun! Where else can you finish a show billed as ‘glamour and grace’ with an all-in performer stack of glitter and limbs all over the stage floor and still get a standing applause?
I will definitely revisit the festival and highly recommend it to fellow performers and show-goers alike. Thank you for having me Berlin Burlesque Festival.
Dream Big, Live Big.
Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.